EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio held his weekly press conference Tuesday inside the Izzo Family Media Center at the Spartan Stadium North End Zone Complex to recap the Spartans’ win over Rutgers last Saturday and preview this Saturday’s game against No. 2 Ohio State for MSU’s Senior Day.
Michigan State plays host to No. 2/2 Ohio State on Saturday, Nov. 19 on Senior Day in Spartan Stadium. The game will be broadcast on ESPN with kickoff scheduled for 12:01 p.m. The Spartans (3-7, 1-6 B1G) got back on the winning track with a 49-0 shutout victory over Rutgers last Saturday at home, while the Buckeyes (9-1, 6-1 B1G) moved into a tie for first place in the Big Ten East Division following their 62-3 win at Maryland.
The Spartans have defeated the Buckeyes in two of the last three meetings, both when Ohio State was ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll. Michael Geiger hit a 41-yard field goal as time expired to give Michigan State a 17-14 victory over OSU last season in Columbus en route to winning the Big Ten Championship, while also snapping the Buckeyes’ 23-game winning streak. The Spartans held the Buckeyes to 132 yards of total offense in last year’s win, the fewest ever by an Urban Meyer-coached team. In the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game, MSU snapped Ohio State’s school-record 24-game winning streak with a 34-24 win as the Spartans clinched their first Rose Bowl berth in 26 years.
Saturday’s game marks the 45th meeting between Michigan State and Ohio State. The Buckeyes lead the all-time series 29-15, including a 15-5 record in games played in East Lansing. Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio is 3-4 during his tenure against Ohio State and 3-6 overall (0-2 at Cincinnati).
The following is a complete transcript from Tuesday’s press conference courtesy of Michigan State University Athletics:
COACH DANTONIO: Real quickly, we’re looking forward to the challenge at Ohio State brings to Spartan Stadium here this weekend. Obviously, number two in the country. So, very good football team, very well coached, know lot of their coaches, and they have great concepts, offensively and defensively, and do a great job. They have very good athletes, a very athletic football team when you look at them across the board and look at them offensively. First guy you see is the quarterback. I think he has 98 career touchdown throws or runs combined. I think he’s 23 maybe touchdown passes this year to four interceptions. So, very productive. Curtis Samuel is a guy that has almost 1,400 yards, I believe, of offense between running the football and catching the football, so productive football team with a lot of athletes. Defensively, on that side of the ball, same type of thing. They go deep into their roster and they’ve got some outstanding football players. So, without going through all of those guys, they run and tackle very effectively.
We’ve got 28 players from Ohio on our football team as well as quite a number of coaches with an Ohio background, so a little bit of extra motivation on this end. We’ve played them well the last couple years, the last four years, two and two against them. The other games have been exciting games as well. So looking forward to that challenge. And I’ll just take some questions.
Q. Malik McDowell is not on your depth chart this week. Any particular reason why? Is he hurt? Is he out?
COACH DANTONIO: Right now, he’s probably — he’s out, but we’ll see … I don’t want to list him as number two, but I didn’t think — he’s not a number two, but, I just didn’t know how to list him based on last week, he was out. So that’s why we listed him as such. So, he’ll either start for us or be able to play. We’ll see as the week goes.
Q. Mark, Donnie Corley obviously has got attention playing on both sides of the ball for a kid of his age to be able to do that. I mean, how tough is that in terms of the amount of things you have to process with his level of experience?
COACH DANTONIO: You know it speaks to the opportunities that are at corner, first of all, I think, for young players here. We’ve got redshirt freshmen, we’ve got Donnie, Justin Layne we moved over there, and he’s starting. We recruited Donny with the idea that he could play both, and we want to make that happen. He’s skilled enough to do that. You know, much like I talked with about after the game, he’s a big athletic guy with ball judgment, he can tackle in space. If he’s playing 25 or 30 plays on offense or more, I think one game he played 55 as well, but, he can play more. So, our idea is to make sure that he is thoroughly exhausted at the end of the football game. That’s the plan.
Q. Mark, there have been guys who have done that both ways but maybe not true freshman. After this game, would you have Corley talk to Chris Gamble? You know him obviously very well. Is there something that Donnie could get from that conversation?
COACH DANTONIO: You know, Chris did that when he was a junior, and then he went out after three. He did that a little bit as a sophomore and ended up playing — I think the most plays he ever played, I think he played 116 plays. He played six games, I think, where he played over 100 plays. So it’s doable, but, you know, whether we get to that extent or not will depend on other people and other personnel, recruiting, and how people and players develop and those type of things. So, but he is a guy that obviously, we could — I haven’t talked to Chris for a while, but obviously we can do that if we chose to do that, but I think the most important thing is for him to be able to take what he’s learned offensively and defensively and sort of digest that over the course of the offseason and look at himself and try to get better in both regards. He’s an outstanding offensive player as well, as you guys have seen.
Q. Mark, I was struck by your comment Saturday in some of your players about how the locker room felt like you won a championship. How much did you need that feeling going into this stretch run, not only that you won, but the way you won getting back to Spartan football?
COACH DANTONIO: I think we needed that. I think we needed to play well on all ends of the spectrum which we were able to do, and that was something that we needed to happen. So, you know, we were sort of out there in the desert a little bit. So doesn’t mean that we’re back, but I think it meant a lot to our football team and our players in terms of how we played and how we played with each other and the energy that existed on the football field. So, I don’t know, it just sort of it me a little bit, and I think it hit the players as well. So we’re just having fun together.
Q. Mark, you mentioned a 2-2 record against Ohio State. They’ve only lost to one other Big Ten team since Urban (Meyer) got there. Anything you point to specifically why you have been able to have success with them while other good teams haven’t?
COACH DANTONIO: Players made plays. Players made plays in the game. In both respects, the 2013 game and 2015 game, our guys came ready to play. They were focused. Other team was focused — Buckeyes were focused, too. I thought we played well. We made plays on the field, big plays in the game. Last year, (Aaron) Burbridge making a big catch a couple times, big runs, defensively played very well. They are a tough team, very tough, difficult team to prepare for offensively and defensively. They bring a lot to the table, but, you know, if you’re playing well — if you’re going to win this conference, you’ve got to play well against the good teams in this conference, and traditionally they’ve been very, very good. Obviously, that’s not the case this year (with Michigan State winning conference championship), but you need to measure up. You’re always trying to measure up.
Q. Brandon Clemons is the guy that play both sides of the ball, both offense and defensive line. How valuable has he been for this team and where do you think the team would be without his ability to do that?
COACH DANTONIO: He’s a sixth-year senior. He filled the gaps in a lot of different places. He’s played on defense for us at times. He may do that again this week. With Tyler Higbee’s injury, he’ll start at right guard. He played right guard last year against the Buckeyes as well, so, he’s played in games. I mean, he’s been a guy that played in a lot of football games for us, and he’s started in games for us offensively and defensively. So you take a guy like that, who has been extremely valuable and really has been totally unselfish in the way he’s gone about his business.
Q. Mark, going off the 2-2 record against Ohio State recently, you guys came into that `13 game and `15 game as underdogs to the Buckeyes, so, despite the circumstances of this year, does it feel kind of similar going in, knowing that you’ve beaten this team before and you can do it again?
COACH DANTONIO: I just think that we’ve got to play well in all areas. You know, I don’t ever go into a football game saying that we’re an underdog. I never say we’re an underdog to our football team. I’ve never gone into a football game and said, well, we’re X amount of points underdogs. We’ve always gone into a game planning to win and we need to understand these are the things we need to do to win a football game and we’re going to play, in this conference, you are usually going to compete at the highest level pretty much week in and week out. You can obviously be expected to do so, a lot of good football teams, a lot of very well-coached football teams in this conference.
Q. Mark, when you win a championship at a school as you did at Ohio State, do you always kind of have an affection, I know your tie was Tressel and yet you want to beat their brains in this week, but is there always an affection because of what you went through there?
COACH DANTONIO: Oh, yeah. Most definitely there always will be. That’s the part of when I got into coaching and I was a graduate assistant, ultimately, I was a graduate assistant for Earl Bruce at Ohio State for two years. So there’s the relationships with those people at that point in time in my life, which was in my 20’s, mid-to-late 20s. Then there was the relationship when I went there as defensive coordinator with those coaches and those people at that time and all of the players then, so I know a lot of people down there. I’m from that state, and, you know, I guess I don’t know what the word I want to use here, but, the respect that I have for that program, and the players who played in it, is here, you know, and a lot of places, certainly here with our players and everything as well, but I have a deep respect for Ohio State and what they’ve been able to accomplish, you know, traditionally, long term.
Q. Mark, you said you go into this game, and any game, expecting to win. You’re never going to change that way. But because, kind of flip, whereas last year you were in the situation at Ohio State and Penn State and Michigan were in, do players actually or coaches take the added motivation, we can have an effect on some other teams?
COACH DANTONIO: I think they naturally do. I think that’s pretty natural that you want to be playing for something. So, you’ve got a little bit of added significance there, but I think more importantly, it’s how you are going to measure up. Right now they’re the number two team in the country. This is what has been going on in the past. This is where we are right now. We’ve led in every football game, every football game, I think has been pretty competitive. We are where we are, but this is a way to move forward, you know, as a program. So, you know, you got to just — you’ve just got to get yourself ready to play at highest level.
Q. Mark, with the early game last week, did you have a chance to watch Pittsburgh and Clemson and the two night games and something as crazy as that happens in one day, does that remind your guys, hey, you don’t play the game on paper?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah. I did sort of, I sort of watched, I got there, I guess, about halftime of the Clemson/Pitt game, so I watched that and obviously want Pat (Narduzzi, former Michigan State defensive coordinator, now Pittsburgh head coach) to win and want to see that happen, and I sort of watched the Iowa/Michigan game. Sort of nice to sit there and not worry about things, but, yeah, exciting football games. There’s a lot of competition in this league. Games are played on the field. They are not played on paper. To continually say that and what you win with is great fundamentals. Ultimately, it’s great fundamentals, and how you play out structurally in a game relative to the formations you present, and offense, defense and special teams, and the formations as they present. You know, I think that’s coaching, but you’ve got to play fundamentally sound as well.
Q. Mark, if you don’t have Malik (McDowell), you’ve got three freshmen and a sophomore listed as your starting defensive line. Anything you can tell them about the challenge of going up against that Ohio State front as a team?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, you got to learn fast. Those guys are getting to the point in their season where they’re not young freshman at least anymore, they’re a little bit more experienced, and I think they grow each week, and they’ve got athletic ability. I was talking to Shilique Calhoun yesterday. He was in for Saturday’s game and stayed around really through yesterday. I was talking to him a little bit about playing as a true freshman, which he did not have to do. So there’s a big learning curve there, but that learning curve, I think, I think it’s faster. I think you’re going to learn more when you’re playing than you’re learning on the scout field. So there is a faster learning curve, but you got to grow up fast, so we’ll see. Kevin Williams is there, he’s an experienced player as well. We’ve got some other guys. So, we’ll see, but we need to measure up. This is a part of it.
Q. I got two. One at a time.
COACH DANTONIO: Okay.
Q. Did you happen to talk to Pat (Narduzzi) Saturday night or Sunday?
COACH DANTONIO: I talked with him through texts, through texts, just like anybody would in social media these days.
Q. He was pretty excited, right?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, very excited. Very excited. I talked with him the week before as well. I think it was the week before.
Q. Stuck on the Ohio State thing, but have you ever met Woody Hayes before?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I have.
Q. You have?
COACH DANTONIO: A couple times, three times.
Q. What was it like?
COACH DANTONIO: Pretty crazy. One time he started talking about Zanesville (Coach Dantonio’s hometown), how you know they made pottery back in Zanesville back in this day in age, because he’s a history guy. But I distinctly remember when we won the championship in `84, and they rushed the field and all that kind of stuff, so I was one of the last ones walking back up into the locker room and everybody was gone pretty much, and there was just Coach Hayes sitting there on the bench, so I walked in and just sort of, `how you doing,’ you know? It was just him and me, and I think I had a program in my hand, and just being a GA, I said, `do you mind signing this?’ I think I still have that program.
Q. You got his autograph?
COACH DANTONIO: Yeah, I did. Yeah. He was quite the guy. And you know Coach Bruce was there at the time, and Earl would always tell Woody’s stories, because he had coached for him, and he was pretty — he was one of those guys, one of those football guys, that everybody in football, I think will know who Woody Hayes is.
Q. Senior Day on Saturday for your seniors, obviously not the way they wanted their senior year to go. How have they handled this season and everything they’ve been through, and I guess just reflect on their careers in general a little bit, too?
COACH DANTONIO: They’ve done a great job. First of all, all of those guys, the guys who have been with us, they all have two Big Ten championship rings, they all have a Cotton Bowl ring. If you look to see which games they’ve been to, which bowl games they’ve been to, they’ve been to an Outback Bowl, a Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, then a Rose Bowl and two Cotton Bowls, and one playoffs, so they’ve had distinguished careers. If they were redshirted, they went to the Outback Bowl, but they’ve accomplished a lot. I think that’s the thing they need to remember in the journey here.
When you get to this year, high expectations, a lot of things enter into where we’re at. We won’t go into that, but obviously didn’t end the way they wanted it to end, but their attitude and their passion for the game and their commitment, really has allowed us to move forward every single game. Every single practice, whether you’re practicing last year, getting ready to be 10-1, really — after this week, we were 10-1 last year — or this week, the practice is really, if you walk out on the practice field, they’re no different. The mentality, the effort, the intangible things, there’s no difference, and that’s senior leadership, and that’s just senior interaction with our young players. So they’ve done a great job. I know it’s been a disappointing year. I know it’s, in a lot of ways, you can look back and say we should have won this game, that game, this game, that game, but we are just sort of where we’re at. We have to deal with that and hopefully this period of time in their life helps strengthen them for later disappointments in their life where they have challenges in their life and have to be able to go through them in order to come out the back end.
Q. Mark two questions, not a two-part question. Two questions. In light of everything this team’s been through, this senior class could shock the world and have that be their last home memory. What do you think that would mean and what would it say about that group?
COACH DANTONIO: Well, I was on another football team in 1998 that didn’t play a bowl game here and we went down and played the number one team in Ohio, at Ohio Stadium, at Ohio State, and won. Didn’t go to a bowl game that year, but everybody seems to remember it, so, I guess that’s something. But, I think the biggest thing is, is playing the next game and always getting ready for your next challenge, and that’s this one, and it’s a big, big challenge that we have standing in front of us.
Q. What would you say if one of your GAs game up to you and asked for an autograph?
COACH DANTONIO: I’d laugh. Say, ‘get out of here.’ Thank you.